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As a child, Rodney Hood was too afraid to ask his favorite player for an autograph when he happened to run into him one day. Instead, it was his mother who had to speak up for her shy child and make the introduction that ended with an NBA all-star posing for a photo with a young Hood.
These days, however, that same all-star will be making sure the bashful boy from the photo knows he shouldn't be afraid to ask him for anything.
"He's a great kid, great talent," new Utah Jazz forward Joe Johnson said of Hood. "I'm looking forward to helping him out."
Entering his third NBA season, the 23-year-old Hood figures to be the Jazz's starting shooting guard, one of the team's most versatile offensive weapons and a key cog in a roster built with playoff aspirations. He reached this point, in some ways, by modeling aspects of his game after Johnson, his favorite player as a boy growing up in Mississippi. Now, Hood and the Jazz hope Johnson's mentorship in the locker room will elevate their young star's game even more.
"He has the total package as far as being athletic, can shoot, create. Those are the things that have gotten him here," Johnson said of the rising Jazz star sitting next to him on the dais during a media day interview this week. "But it's the little savvy things that you learn align the way that we call quote-unquote cheats. As you become a veteran, you learn the tricks of the trade. If he can learn those things early in his career, I think it will be even better."
Johnson is a seven-time all-star who has logged more than 41,000 minutes, scored more than 19,000 points and started in nearly 100 playoff games. When Jazz forward Gordon Hayward was a rookie, Johnson was the player he told his friends he had the toughest time trying to defend.
"I felt like I was on an island when I had to guard him," Hayward said.
But at age 35, Johnson is in a different place.
"I didn't come here trying to be a star or a starter," he said and then laughed. "… Going into my 16th season, I just want to get up and down the court."
But he also wants to make sure he helps Hood reach a different, a better, place in his young career too.
"We both felt his contribution could be significant regardless of whether he's starting or playing 30 minutes a game or whatever the situation is," Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said.
Johnson brings with him experience and confidence, the ability to score in isolation and the versatility to spell Hood on the wing or play a small-ball power forward.
And he wants to impart the knowledge he's acquired.
A young Jazz team has learned lessons on the fly the past three seasons. But with the addition of Johnson, George Hill and Boris Diaw, they know have a core of locker room leaders to help them take the next step.
"The talent's definitely there," Johnson said. "The Jazz have done a great job of mixing in veteran talent to help lead these guys in the right direction."
Already, Snyder said, he sees similarities between Hood and his childhood hero.
"Joe's offensive versatility is unique," the coach said. "That's one of the things I [see] in Rodney-knocking down a 3, in pick-and-roll, having a post game and just playing at a pace where you look really comfortable and in control all the time."
Last season, the shooting guard averaged 14.5 points per game and shot 35.9 percent from 3. Entering his third NBA season, the Jazz will expect improvement.
"I don't know what that will manifest itself into in terms of stats and all that, but I think I'm better equipped to help my team than last year and the year before," Hood said. "I've been through some bumps and bruises and I think it will help me going forward this year."
Johnson and Hood worked out together in Atlanta for part of this summer before joining up and getting to work early in Salt Lake before the start of camp.
"It's just a great feeling to have like a mentor-type guy that I haven't had my first couple years," Hood said.
Johnson, Hood by the numbers (2015-16)
Joe Johnson - 12.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists
Rodney Hood - 14.5 points, 3 rebounds, 2.3 assists